Socialization of Boys and Girls

To be childless is a tragedy. Abaluyia value sons highly; men want sons to insure generational continuity of self and clan, and women want sons to insure support in their old age. However, girls are also valued for their labor and for the "wealth" (cattle and money) their bridewealth will bring to their family when they marry, which in turn makes it possible for their brothers to pay bridewealth so they can marry. Increasingly, daughters are also being seen as providers of support for elderly parents. Malnutrition, though fairly common, affects girls and boys about equally, seeming to be more the result of poverty and marital conflicts than gender discrimination. Until recently, people wanted a large family with many sons and many daughters. However, in the past decade Kenya's birth rate has dropped drastically (even in Maragoli, long known for its high fertility), suggesting a new ideal of smaller families in a context of some improvement in women's economic empowerment.

During infancy and early childhood, girls and boys are treated pretty much the same. Infants are breast-fed and held almost constantly, usually receiving much warmth and affectionate indulgence. When they are a few years old children begin helping their mothers with child-care and household tasks. Young girls and boys often play together with simple homemade toys and in games such as hide-and-seek and guessing riddles; they may also forage for snack foods such as grasshoppers and fruits. By age 8 or 9, play is more often in same-sex groups. Girls stay closer to home, working for their mothers, while boys are freer to roam around with brothers and friends, a pattern that continues through adulthood. All children learn—primarily by imitation and experience— work appropriate to their gender; all are trained to respect and obey anyone older than themselves, to practice emotional self-control, and to behave properly. Boys are encouraged to greater independence, while girls are expected to be modest and shy. Any child may be disciplined with harsh words and sometimes beatings, though girls are more likely to be beaten (as are wives).

A major change in children's socialization is school attendance. For much of the 20th century girls rarely and perhaps a quarter to a half of boys went to school, but today elementary education is nearly universal. Schoolchildren learn English and Swahili. They receive some instruction about indigenous cultures, but the emphasis is on knowledge different from the local knowledge of parents and grandparents. Schools encourage swiftness of thought and openness to innovation, in contrast to the indigenous emphasis on slow deliberate thought. This may indicate an emerging shift in cognitive style that is no doubt reinforced with television viewing. Thus in school and through television, children are exposed to new ideas about gender roles and, in the person of teachers and school heads, nontraditional role models.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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